Friday, July 8, 2011

Musings: Something to Think About

This morning’s arrival was marked by rain that shifted from misty to faint to steady, a gentle wind that caused the ironwoods to sigh and, looking up, smoky gray upon ash gray upon charcoal gray, which combined to create a leaden sky.

We went out nonetheless, my yellow umbrella and the dogs’ joy and eagerness adding brightness to a day where the dawn was slow to dispel the darkness.

Another bright spot was provided by news that the U.S. has finally dropped its opposition to labeling foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. The reversal came Tuesday at the annual summit of the Codex Alimentarius Commissionii, comprising the world's food safety regulatory agencies, which has been working for two decades to reach consensus on this issue. As GM watch reports:

The new Codex agreement means that any country wishing to adopt GM food labelling will no longer face the threat of a legal challenge from the World Trade Organization (WTO). This is because national measures based on Codex guidance or standards cannot be challenged as a barrier to trade.

Besides fears that sales of GM foods could drop if they’re plainly labeled, you can see from this comment why the U.S. and GM crop pushers, who repeatedly claim that their products are safe, don’t want labeling:

Consumers International's lead delegate at Codex, and a senior scientist at Consumers Union of the United States, Dr Michael Hansen, stated: "This is one of the key reasons we want all GM foods to be required to be labeled - so that if consumers eat modified foods, they will be able to know and report to regulators if they have an allergic or other adverse reaction."

Labeling is only one issue. Most genetically modified crops are designed to tolerate applications of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, which boosters also claim is safe. But a June 2011 report by international scientists collaborating with Earth Open Source tells a different story about the world’s best-selling herbicide, which is used with abandon here on Kauai:

Scientific research published in 2010 showed that Roundup and the chemical on which it is based, glyphosate, cause birth defects in frog and chicken embryos at dilutions much lower than those used in agricultural and garden spraying.

The [EU] Commission has previously ignored or dismissed many other findings from the independent scientific literature showing that Roundup and glyphosate cause endocrine disruption, damage to DNA, reproductive and developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, and cancer, as well as birth defects. Many of these effects are found at very low doses, comparable to levels of pesticide residues found in food and the environment.

The report goes on to tell about how industry and government have known about — and ignored — these effects for years, as the Commission meanwhile quietly delayed a scientific review of glyphosate and 38 other dangerous pesticides until 2015.

Very little about this is reported by mainstream media. Indeed, critics are often dismissed as flakes. But it’s not so easy to blow off the concerns of Don Huber, a plant pathologist of 50 years standing, now Emeritus Professor at Purdue University. Earlier this year he wrote a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warning him of a “microscopic pathogen that appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings. Based on a review of the data, it is widespread, very serious, and is in much higher concentrations in Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans and corn—suggesting a link with the RR gene or more likely the presence of Roundup. This organism appears NEW to science!"

Huber talks more about glyphosate, GM crops and the new pathogen in a lengthy, though fascinating, article in ACRES U.S.A. He mentions that glyphosate can survive for a number of years in high-clay soils (like the kind found here on Kauai), and greatly impact a plant’s ability to uptake nutrients. As for the newly found pathogen, it's even more alarming:

ACRES U.S.A. Could your theory be summarized thusly — this is not the result of a mutation in an existing pathogen, rather, a change in the conditions has caused an existing pathogen to multiply and become a problem, with pathways being created that were not common in the past?

HUBER. Right. The organism appears to be prominent in the environment but new to science.

ACRES U.S.A. What other results do you anticipate?

HUBER. High infertility and abortions in animals fed with corn and soybean feeds containing high populations of this organism.

We’re finding fairly significant levels of glyphosate in manure. You have to ask how the chicken got it or how the hog or cattle got it, and of course, that’s through their feed. Is it all moving through the animal or is it also into their meat and other tissues? We really don’t have a lot of that data. Some of the other countries are collecting it and doing the analysis, and we’re just starting to do some in this country. But for the most part it’s just been considered so safe that we closed our eyes and said there’s no need to do any of that work.

Just something to think about when you see state workers, wearing no safety gear, hosing down our roadsides with this toxic stuff or drive past the glyphosate-drenched GM crop fields that now stretch from Lihue to Mana.


Anonymous said...

Gosh. You should write an expose on how Hawaii's legislature has allowed to have our soil poisoned! There are people who have been paid off I'm sure. How can people allow this happen on our fragile island? I remember Kawakami supporting GMO's and so have other politicians. Geesh.

Anonymous said...

Earthjustice just ran an interesting article today. A good read. Mahalo Joan.

Anonymous said...

Kawakami, surprisingly, has never been on the right side of issues as I had expected him to be.
There was a time I would have supported him, but time and time again, he has taken the position of a sell out on all the protections that are already in place and simply needed a little support.
tsk tsk running for the seat solely for the image. I cannot begin to describe the shame in that especially for a local man who had always claimed to for and with the aina.

One thing I can say: Derek and father, when you needed help from community they came out for you, didnʻt they?
So, it was always, about ..... you.

Anonymous said...

States and localities are forbidden from requiring GM labeling by the FDA.

Anonymous said...

Who did decide Kauai should be a testing ground for poisons?
Chemical drenched island just as much as it is sun drenched. Need we wonder why so much cancer here on Kauai, even though there is no other pollution.
Like agent orange and PCB's and arsenic and all the other poisons, that were once thought to be safe, duh...of course round up is just as toxic.. Who is it that thinks poisons are safe?
After the chem companies are finished with the westside, nothin will ever grow there again.
Like heptachlor, which was used on the pineapple fields long after it was banned everywhere else, and dioxin, which was tested here for vietnan, we're like a friggin dumping ground.
The clean thing is a tourist gimmick only.

Unknown said...

The effects of Roundup and RR crops are certainly worth paying attention to, so labeling is useful. But my understanding is that the usage on Kaua`i is typical of how it is used world wide.
Also, the appearance of pathogens with RR crops is not surprising, since nature is constantly evolving. There were pathogens before and they will continue to adapt to their environment, with or without Roundup. Science gives us some (albeit imperfect) ability to control that environment.
In my mind, a more interesting question is how do people feel about how patents are used to control this research? But that may be a discussion for another day...